2. Simplicity: think in threes
“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” Hans Hofmann
Simplicity is often very hard to accomplish, and can be more challenging than more complex compositions. I find there can be a misunderstanding about how to achieve simplicity in your photos. People often think it’s about taking a photo of one subject. But actually I rarely take photos which contain only one subject. Usually there has to be one subject with at least one, but usually, two supporting elements. So I like to say – think in threes.
Humans love to think in threes – (breakfast, lunch, dinner; past, present, future; and small, medium, large). We like to find rhythms and patterns in everything.
This photo above is a very good example. How many elements make up this photo? Well, first you have the beautiful blue gradated sky, then the wild, chaotic pattern of the bare branches. That’s all very nice, but it’s the third element that is the subject, and that really makes the photo – the two men blending into the branches, while creating distinct human shapes. The photo without any one of the elements wouldn’t be as interesting.
I am a particular fan of very simple compositions when photographing people and I often use plain and colourful backgrounds. In the photo below, again there are three strong elements: bright pastel colours, the two guys and the strong lines.
It also works when photographing pigeons! Another photo with three elements: the grey, slightly dishevelled pigeon, the wash of colour, and the texture and lines of the wet paving stones.